Success is like fishing
When most people look back on their lives and particularly which parts of them were successful, they’re often surprised at how these successes came about. More often than not, the opportunities we expect to be fantastic turn out to be not worth the time we invest in them; while those we expect to amount to nothing can turn into the greatest of our lives.
So how do you pick the good opportunities from the bad? The simple answer is that you can’t.
Things rarely turn out the way that we, or anyone else expects them to. The world is full of well-paid experts predicting what the future is going to look like, but usually they’re wrong. The only certainty about the future is that it’s uncertain.
Come to terms with the fact that you can’t be sure which opportunities are going to pay off. Whether in love, business or friendship – you simply can’t predict what is going to occur.
The only sensible way to react to this uncertainty is to attempt to maximise the number of opportunities available to you. Prepare yourself for the fact that most of them will be worthless, but some of them will pay off more than you could ever imagine.
Success is like fishing. The more lines you have in the water, the more fish you’ll catch. Most of your lines will probably be a waste of your time, effort and bait, but some of them will catch fish – and those fish may be bigger and better than you expected.
Many people find it difficult to invest time, money or effort into anything where the reward isn’t obvious and immediate. They’ll go for what they consider “safe” choices, and chase only the few opportunities they feel will certainly reward them. The problem is, that often, these opportunities turn out not to be as safe or certain as they believed. Instead, they find they’ve invested everything in a loser.
Let me give you a couple of examples.
Pierre Omidyar, who invented the website eBay, originally wrote the code for the site over a long-weekend. He had an idea for an auction site where anyone could buy or sell anything. He saw it as a hobby, and not something he could seriously make money out of, so he didn’t charge people anything to use it. He already had a well-paid job as a computer programmer. To keep costs low, he ran it from home on his $30 a month internet connection. He promoted it by posting links to it on discussion forums.
Gradually, eBay’s popularity grew until Omidyar’s ISP began to complain that the site was slowing down their system. They wanted to increase his monthly charge to $250, a commercial account rate. Omidyar complained that his website wasn’t a business, but the ISP insisted. He was faced with the choice of closing down his fun new hobby, or charging users for the site. He chose the latter, and money began to come in. At first, it was only enough to cover is internet connection fee, but soon he was making enough to hire people. Within five years, his hobby became one of the most successful businesses ever.
In 2004, Forbes magazine estimated his net wealth to be $10.4 billion. Not bad, for something Omidyar never really expected to make any money out of at all.
Another example concerns my own marriage. After finishing university in Canberra in 1994, I saved up some money to travel to Europe. I thought I’d spend 6 months backpacking and then six months living in London.
After travelling around, I checked into a youth-hostel in London and started to look for a job and a place to live. I soon discovered that London was a very expensive place to live, and being a recent graduate, the pay I could expect was very low. The prospect of working hard just to be able to survive didn’t strike me as a very promising one, so I had my return ticket to Australia bought forward. I was sure that staying in England would result in misery and poverty for me.
Just before I was due to leave, I went to visit a friend in Windsor, a town just outside London. She convinced me to try living in Windsor, where costs were a little lower. I was pretty sceptical, as the pay I could expect still seemed very low, but I decided to give it a try.
I ended up living in Windsor for almost two years and had one of the best times of my life. It was there that I met my wife.
If I’d have done what seemed like the sensible thing at the time and gone home, I would never have met my wife, and I’d probably be a less happy person today. Opportunity came from the place I least expected it to.
The lesson is not to be too quick to dismiss what might seem poor opportunities, or invest everything in “sure things”. Instead, spread your bets and take risks.
That’s the true path to success.
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